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The Cavendish Lab at Cambridge: Watson and Crick


Donald Michie
Avrion Mitchison Scientist
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Donald had, like me, had secured a classics scholarship to up to Balliol and that was a most distinguished way of coming to Oxford. You couldn't do better than a classics scholarship to- to Balliol. That's what British Prime Ministers, one after another, the liberal Prime Ministers, rather that the Tories, had had for years past. That was what Benjamin Jowett, the great Father of Oxford University, 'my name is Benjamin Jowett there's nothing that is, but I know it, and I'm the Master of this College and what I don't know isn't knowledge'. So, Donald was in the middle of that tradition. But then, during the war, he was sucked off to Bletchley, famous Bletchley, the Code Breakers, where he met and admired these- the great mathematicians, Turing above all of course, but Alexander and other mathematicians. Alexander was a Don back in Oxford after the war. And Donald gave up classics and decided that genetics was the thing. He- he kind of in parallel with me. I don't remember now what degree he took in Oxford. Was it in classics finally? Probably not. It was something else but I don't actually remember what it was. So we sort of started at the same time, and he decided to do this coat colours which was a very respectable thing to do in mice in those days and we built the cages together. But mostly he took me through left wing politics from a different standpoint. He was a very close friend of, and got married to an exact contemporary of mine, who is Anne McLaren. And I'm glad I remembered to mention her because she was another big influence in Oxford, Anne. I think there will personal archive- personal archive on Anne, here, won't there? So perhaps I don't need to say very much about that. She also was somebody, since we were contemporaries or since she was a beautiful young woman, I was deeply touched by her, although, as she was the first person to tell me eventually, I never said a word to her. She was- I was impossible to talk to, and I didn't know how to talk to girls. I had to come back from America before I had learned to do that. But I didn't know how to talk to girls. Not even to Ming. Yes, it was alright when there were three of us. And she knew perfectly well what was going on, but I didn't know how to talk to girls. I see. Anyway, so Anne- I think Anne had converted Donald from being- he'd never been a stuffy classic, but he could've been a stuffy classic, to being a lively minded left wing geneticist at that time. But still with his real interest, I think, in sort of mathematics, on the mathematical side.

Avrion Mitchison, the British zoologist, is currently Professor Emeritus at University College London and is best known for his work demonstrating the role of lymphocytes in tumour rejection and for the separate and cooperative roles of T- and B-lymphocytes in this and other processes.

Listeners: Martin Raff

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 3 minutes, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008